How much will my ticket cost if I hire a Los Angeles traffic ticket lawyer?

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Los Angeles Traffic Ticket Lawyer Mark A. GallagherIs it worth the money to hire a Los Angeles Traffic Ticket Lawyer?   This is a question I get asked everyday in my office.  Some people will call and beat around the bush, others get right down to the point and just ask.  If my LA traffic ticket costs $500, why would I pay more than that to hire a lawyer?  If the lawyer is charging $450 is it a good deal now?  Do you guarantee a dismissal?  What happens if it ends up costing me more?  If I lose do I have to pay the traffic ticket and pay the lawyer?

The problem with this line of thinking is that people are only looking at the amount of the fine on the traffic ticket vs the cost of paying the lawyer.     Most people make the assumption that the only penalty associated with a traffic ticket is the fine itself and for most tickets, this simply isn’t the case.    In order to make a smart decision you need to consider ALL of the penalties that come from a ticket.  The thing most often overlooked is your driving record with the DMV.   Paying a ticket for a moving violation will trigger a “point” on your driving record.   Every insurance company has their own rules and rates, but most people will see a substantial increase in their insurance premiums after receiving a point.  Get more than one point and the rate goes up more.  Get too many points and you end up losing your license as a negligent operator.    Your driving record can also affect your ability to obtain employment.   If you are a commercial license holder, you know exactly what I’m talking about already.   But even non commercial drivers can run into this problem.  If you drive a company car, or drive during the course of your employment, your employer will likely have insurance coverage for that purpose.   So if you have a point, you are costing your employer money.   This can make the difference between keeping your jog or losing it and it can also make it easy for a potential employer to just go with a different candidate with a clean driving record.

Another issue that is often overlooked would be the consequences of failures to appear and license suspensions.   These types of cases present problems that go well beyond the price of the fine you pay for the ticket.  Failure to appear is a misdemeanor and having a misdemeanor on your record is even worse than having a point.   Even as an infraction, having a failure to appear on your driving record will be a red flag to insurance companies, which will again result in higher premiums.   A history of license suspensions will cause the same problem.   Even after we fix the suspension and your license is returned, the fact that your license was suspended at one point will remain on your driving record, and most insurance companies will consider you to be an increased risk and charge you more money.

So while I completely understand that money is a huge factor in the decision of whether or not to hire a Los Angeles traffic ticket lawyer, be sure to look beyond the price of the fine when doing the math.   Every traffic ticket is unique and only you can decide if it’s worth hiring a Los Angeles traffic ticket lawyer for your case, but for some general guidelines, consider the following.

Non Moving Violation and Paying the ticket on time

If you have a ticket for a non moving violation without a failure to appear,  it will almost always be cheaper to just pay the fine.   Hiring a lawyer is usually not a good financial decision on cases like this because if you pay the fine for the ticket there will be no points assessed on your driving record.   For example, if you get a cellphone ticket in Los Angeles, you are looking at about $165 in fines.  If you pay the $165 on time, it’s done and over with.    Same thing for a basic seat belt ticket.  Hiring a lawyer for more than the amount of the fine doesn’t make much sense.  Even if you find a desperate lawyer that would take your case for $149, it still doesn’t make sense, because you may end up paying the lawyer AND paying the ticket.  Regardless of what the marketing scams online tell you, “we win or it’s free” is a bunch of crap.

If you read the fine print on those types of ads there are usually several problems.  First of all, you are usually hiring a quasi legal service.  This means you are not hiring a lawyer to go to court for you, you are hiring a business run by non lawyers to help you file paperwork you could do on your own.   Second, you will have to pay bail up front to do the trial by declaration, so you are paying the fee AND you are paying the ticket.  Third, if you lose the ticket, you have lost the price of the ticket AND they still have your money for the service.  When you file a claim under the guarantee, you will usually only receive a portion of the money back and collecting is rumored to be quite a long, painful chore.   So if you get a ticket for a non mover, (aka no points), and you haven’t missed the deadline, just pay the ticket and move on.

If you feel your were not guilty of the offense and want to fight the ticket on principle, go ahead.  You have every right to contest the citation.  If you want to hire a lawyer to fight it for you for the same reason, go ahead.  Just don’t make the mistake of thinking you are going to save money by hiring someone to fight this kind of ticket.  For tickets like this you are buying a sales pitch if that is your line of reasoning.  “My ticket (non moving violation and paying before the deadline) is $235 and Joe’s ticket service will fight it for $199, I’m gonna save me some money”.   This is a recipe for disaster for you and for Joe’s ticket service.   They may take your $199, but you are going to tell everyone you know when you lose that it cost you $199 PLUS the $235.   If you don’t believe me on this, take a look at the online reviews for some of the large traffic ticket services that market heavily on TV and online.   TONS of unhappy clients.

My philosophy is to be upfront and honest with clients to avoid this problem.  If you have a ticket like this, hiring a lawyer is not a money saving technique, it’s a luxury.   You hire me because you want to fight the ticket for some reason other than saving money and you understand that it’s going to cost money to have professional representation and the best chance to win.   When potential client’s call me with the mindset of saving money, I try to explain and demonstrate that it’s cheaper to just pay the ticket, but some people insist that hiring a lawyer on a case like this is a good way to save money and my prices are just too high.  If you want to “save money” by fighting a ticket like this, go hire someone else, because it’s a recipe for disaster.

Moving Violations

When you are facing a moving violation the cost/benefit analysis of hiring a Los Angeles traffic ticket lawyer becomes more complex.   We now have to consider the “cost” of the ticket as more than just the price of the fine.    As we discussed earlier, we are now concerned with points on your driving record and all of the problems they can bring.    There are many different types of moving violations, (click here to verify with the DMV whether your charge is a mover or not) but some common examples would be a speeding ticket (VC 22349, VC 22350, VC 22348b, VC 22356, and others), an illegal turn, a stop sign (VC 22450), and the dreaded red light camera ticket. (VC 21453(a))

When facing a moving violation the name of the game is avoiding the point.   If you receive a citation for a moving violation in California and you pay off the ticket, you have plead guilty.    The guilty plea will trigger a conviction and the conviction will add one or more points to your driving record.   If you are a non commercial driver (meaning you don’t drive a big rig) and you have a regular Class C California Drivers License, you can solve this problem by going to traffic school.

Traffic school is an 8 hour program and you are eligible to attend once every 18 months.   To determine eligibility you do the math from ticket date to ticket date.  So it doesn’t matter what day you actually did the school, or what day you went to court, or how many extensions you got, etc.    Just look at the date you were given the ticket.   Have you been to traffic school for any other ticket received with 18 months of that date?  If the answer is no, you are eligible on almost every type of moving violation.   Some courts will not allow traffic school on certain types of offenses or if you have pass a magic line for going too far over the speed limit.   If you have a case like this, keep reading the section below.    If you have a standard moving violation and you are eligible for traffic school, it may be time to head to school for 8 hours.

Traffic school can be completed in person or online in California.   There are costs involved and this article is about the costs of a California traffic ticket so let’s talk about those a little more.   First, you have to pay the fine for the ticket itself to do traffic school.    So if you have a speeding ticket, and the amount of the fine is $275, you have to pay the $275 to go to traffic school.  Going to traffic school does NOT eliminate the fine, it eliminates the point on your DMV record.    Second, you have to pay a traffic school processing fee to the court.   This fee varies from court to court but most courts in Southern California charge between $50-$75.   Finally, you will need to pay for the school itself.  Fees vary here as well from school to school but we are usually talking between $19-$49.    So going to traffic school will cost you MORE than just paying off the ticket, but it’s worth it.   The amount for the court processing fee and the school is almost always under $100 and over time the point on your driving record can cost you WAY WAY more than that.   Trust me on this one people, if you are eligible for traffic school and you aren’t going to fight your ticket, GO TO SCHOOL!

So is it worth hiring a Los Angeles Traffic Ticket Lawyer for a moving violation?   Maybe.   Let’s talk some numbers.  Remember, on a ticket for a moving violation where you are eligible for traffic school, you pay the fine, the processing fee, and the school, to avoid the point.    If the total for all of that is $400 and a lawyer wants $375 to fight the ticket, should you hire the lawyer and save $25?   Stop right there.  Remember, hiring a lawyer  does not guarantee a dismissal.  When you hire a lawyer the lawyer will fight the ticket on your behalf but this does NOT guarantee a win.   Hiring a so called ticket service does not guarantee a win either, regardless of how they pitch their services.  So you have to go beyond simply comparing the price of paying the ticket and the price of hiring someone to fight it.   If this is your analysis…. “My ticket cost $289 and Joe’s ticket service is only $199, I’m gonna hire him and save some money”,  you are not making a rational decision.   And neither is Joe by the way, but that’s a different article.   If you are just trying to save money, go to traffic school or fight your ticket on your own.  Hiring a lawyer to save money on a ticket where your are eligible for traffic school is not a smart financial decision.

So when DOES it make sense to hire a lawyer to fight a traffic ticket for a moving violation?  Here are several scenarios where it makes good sense

1-You have already gone to traffic school on another ticket in the last 18 months

2-You aren’t eligible for traffic school because it’s a specialty ticket (see below)

3-You are a commercial driver (see below)

4-You want to save your traffic school eligibility for your next ticket.  Maybe you have a flashy car, or a lead foot, or you drive a lot of miles and you know the odds of getting more than one ticket per 18 months are not in your favor.  So for you, it makes sense to fight every ticket

5- You want to fight the ticket for any reason and you want it done professionally to have the best chance of winning.   I have been sitting in traffic courts for the last 13 years watching cases and trust me when I say traffic lawyers win more tickets than people without lawyers

6-You want to fight the ticket for any reason and you don’t have time to appear in court and want a lawyer to go on your behalf

7-You have already scheduled a court date on your ticket and now you can’t make the date.   In this scenario the cost of a lawyer is ALWAYS cheaper than the consequences you will face if you simply fail to appear on the date your previously arranged with the court

Hopefully you have noticed a theme here.   Hiring a good lawyer costs money.   And you should have a good reason for making the decision to spend that money.   If the only reason you have is that the cost of hiring the lawyer (or ticket service) is cheaper than the cost of paying the ticket, you are making a bad decision.   If you have gone beyond the idea of saving money vs the cost of the fine and you have a good reason to fight your moving violation, then it becomes a question of finding the best lawyer you can at a fair price for his or her services.  And the price for his or her services has nothing to do with the potential fine on the ticket.

Specialty Tickets

Here we are talking about tickets that don’t allow for traffic school for one reason or another.   For example, many courts in Southern California will not allow traffic school if your ticket alleges that you were going over 85mph on the highway or more than 20 mph over on a surface street.   Different California courts have different policies, but they all follow some form of this rule.

One model allows for payment  by mail, phone, or internet but the bail notice will not make any mention of traffic school.   You are simply given an amount to pay because the automated system has determined your ticket to be a specialty ticket and therefore ineligible for traffic school.    Another model makes all tickets of this type a “mandatory appearance”.   The courts that follow this method want you to show up in front of a judge to face the music.  Not only are they going to prohibit you from going to traffic school, but they are going to scare the crap out of you for driving too fast.

Is it time to hire a Los Angeles traffic ticket lawyer if you received a specialty ticket that is ineligible for traffic school?  Usually yes.   A good lawyer can often get the judge to grant traffic school even though the automated system said you aren’t eligible.  A lawyer can also appear on your behalf for that mandatory appearance ticket and save you the time, stress, and money involved with taking the day off to go to court.

Other specialty tickets involve charges that go beyond a mere traffic infraction.  For example tickets for going over 100 mph under VC 22348b will result in 2 points on your driving record AND a big fine, AND loss of your license for 30 days.   Driving without a license under VC 12500(a) can be charged as a misdemeanor or an infraction and will generally require a court appearance.   Same thing for driving on a suspended license under VC 14601.    Citations for hit and run under VC 20002, and DUI VC 23152(a) and VC 23152(b) are always filed as misdemeanors and at this point you are into the realm of full blown criminal court.   Even though you were “just given a ticket”, you are now facing a criminal prosecution with the potential for time in the county jail.

So does it make sense to hire a Los Angeles traffic ticket lawyer on a specialty ticket for a misdemeanor?  The answer here is yes.   In cases like these the potential penalties reach well beyond the price of the ticket itself.   Get professional help here if you can afford it, and if you can’t afford it, ask the court to appoint the public defender to represent you at your first court appearance.   Anyone facing a criminal charge needs a lawyer, period.

Commercial Drivers

If you are a commercial driver you know that your license is your meal ticket.   A clean driving record is critical to employment.   This is the easiest part of this article to write because the guys and gals who drive for a living don’t need to be educated on this subject, they know better.  If you have a commercial license, you fight every ticket, and you get the best lawyer you can find.

Failures to Appear VC 40508(a) and VC 40509.5(a)

When you have missed the date on your ticket, the court will issue a warrant, issue a hold on your drivers license, add a charge for failing to appear, or do all 3.   This is when a little problem like a traffic ticket turns into a big problem real fast.    People in this boat should always consider hiring a lawyer for reasons that go well beyond saving money.   Staying out of jail and avoiding a misdemeanor criminal conviction is a lot more important than figuring out if you are going to save $12 or not, but for some people it just all comes down to the money.    No matter how hard I try to explain to people that they need to look beyond the cost of paying collections vs the price of hiring a lawyer, people want to compare apples to oranges and figure out which way is “cheaper”.   So if you trust me at this point and you have a failure to appear for a ticket, pick up the phone and call me to get it fixed, or call any other lawyer or your choosing.   If you still have doubts and you just gotta compare the cost, here we go,
Let’s assume GC Services in Los Angeles, or some similar collection agency in a surrounding county wants $1000 for your ticket with a failure to appear.    You know you need to get it fixed and you call a lawyer and the lawyer tells you it’s going to  be $x for representation to solve the problem.  Is hiring the lawyer going to save you money?  Or is it going to cost you more?
How much is it going to cost TOTAL for the lawyer and the ticket?
When you hire a lawyer who knows what they are doing to fight your ticket like this, they will go request the hold off your license right away.   This means you can get your license back in just a few days.  Then they get your ticket out of collections and fight the ticket.   Fighting the ticket takes a long time because the court is over crowded.  We will likely be given an arraignment date that is at least 6 months away.   At the arraignment we would appear in court for you and plead not guilty and set a trial date.  The trial date will be a few more months away.   So maybe 9 months from now we will have a trial date.
At the trial date the lawyer will appear to challenge the ticket.  If the officer fails to show up (they often don’t show up on old tickets), your case will be dismissed, you will owe no fines and you will have nothing on your record.   Some judges will require a small fine in this situation on the theory that even though the ticket goes away you have to pay something for failing to appear.   If the officer shows up we can negotiate a reduction on your ticket or go to trial.   If we do the trial we argue for dismissal, if we win, it’s dismissed, if we lose the judge will impose a sentence.  We will argue for a reduced sentence.
Based on my experience over the last 13 years about 50% of the people who hire a lawyer on tickets like this end up paying nothing at all in fines and getting the complete dismissal.   The other 50% will end up owing something to the court in about 9-10 months.  The amount is usually significantly lower than the amount previously requested by collections but the amount is completely up to the judge.   Clients in this situation usually end up paying less by fighting the ticket then by paying collections.   So for the vast  majority of clients in a failure to appear situation, it’s cheaper to pay the attorney $x plus pay the court $y at the end of the case, then it would have been to pay collections for the whole thing up front.    In my experience handling these kinds of cases all over Southern California, “vast majority” means over 90% in LA county and slightly less in Riverside and Orange County due to Judge’s preference for collecting the full $325 civil assessment in those courts on every ticket.
What is the more important part?
In addition to the money you will be saving in reduced fines, the more important issue is getting your license back ASAP.   Driving on a suspended license is a misdemeanor and if you get caught your car will be impounded and you can go to jail.  You can also get probation, fines, etc and end up with a criminal record.
Another important factor is that if you pay collections you are admitting guilt to everything on the ticket
AND the failure to appear as a misdemeanor.  That’s right, you are buying yourself a criminal record if you pay this ticket through collections.  This can hurt you big time on background checks, etc
Another important factor is your driving record.  If you pay collections the points from any moving violations will hit your record.  Points will cause your insurance rates to go up and if you have too many points your license will be suspended again as a negligent operator.
By fighting the ticket instead of paying it we can get the misdemeanor to go away, and usually avoid the point.   Avoiding the point could involve getting the charge dismissed, getting traffic school, or getting an amendment.   All of this is possible in court, none of this is possible in collections.
What if I can’t afford to hire a lawyer?
You don’t have to hire a lawyer to get this fixed but DON’T PAY COLLECTIONS.    If you can’t afford help, get yourself to court, get in line and start the process yourself.  It’s slow, frustrating and confusing, but you can do it.  And no matter how much you screw it up, the results will still be better than paying collections.   Paying collections means agreeing to the maximum possible damage to your record and highest possible fine.  Fighting the ticket, even if you don’t do it right, will always improve the situation.    Can a lawyer do it more efficiently? Yes, but it’s better to do it yourself than to pay collections.

If anyone is still reading at this point

You either have a traffic ticket that you need help with or you just like reading insanely long blog posts.   If you have questions about your unique traffic ticket scenario, give me a ring at 800-797-8406, send me a email at attorneygallagher@gmail.com, check out my website at www.socaldefenselawyers.com or join my monthly newsletter by clicking here.

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